After weather and a valve fault induced a one day delay, the Delta IV launched the Orion EFT-1 mission successfully into orbit.  The rocket lifted off at 1205 GMT from the Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida on 5 December 2014.  The Orion EFT-1 manned-exploration spacecraft was in unmanned condition and was placed into a 888 x 185km parking orbit before a second firing raised its apogee to 5,800km on an arcing re-entry trajectory.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carries NASA’s Orion spacecraft to orbit on its re-entry test. Courtesy: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carries NASA’s Orion spacecraft to orbit on its re-entry test. Courtesy: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Orion capsule then re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere at high velocity.  The aim was to, at least, partly mimic the conditions a capsule would encounter at the super-orbital speeds experienced when returning from an interplanetary or lunar mission. After the fiery re-entry, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific where it was recovered by the US naval ship, USS Anchorage, for examination. The four and half hour test flight of Orion (without its yet-to-be completed service module) was primarily a test of thermal protection and parachute deployment systems on board.  The next unmanned test flight of Orion, which is set to use the service module, will be launched by a Block 1 version of the SLS rocket and will take place in 2018.  A fully manned Orion flight will not take place until 2020.

A slightly singed Orion EFT-1 capsule awaits its ocean recovery by USS Anchorage. Courtesy: NASA

A slightly singed Orion EFT-1 capsule awaits its ocean recovery by USS Anchorage. Courtesy: NASA